Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, England’s Wayne Rooney and Venezuelan striker Josef Martinez were among five finalists named Wednesday for Major League Soccer’s 2018 Most Valuable Player Award.
Hours before the North American league began its playoff championship run, the league announced finalists for its season awards, topped by the MVP race, which also includes Mexico’s Carlos Vela and Paraguayan midfielder Miguel Almiron.
Zlatan scored 22 goals and added 10 assists – only the fourth 20-and-10 season in MLS history – but Los Angeles Galaxy just missed out on a playoff berth.
Rooney revived DC United after his mid-season arrival, lifting the club from last place into a fourth-place finish in the Eastern Conference and a playoff spot. The former England and Manchester United star netted 12 goals and assisted seven others in 18 matches.
Vela, a World Cup starter for Mexico, scored 14 goals and added 13 assists to spark Los Angeles FC to the best season by any first-year expansion club in league history.
Rooney, Zlatan and Vela are also the finalists for Newcomer of the Year, a pro player who made his MLS debut this year.
Martinez shattered the MLS record with 31 goals this season for Atlanta United while teammate Almiron, last year’s Newcomer of the Year, contributed 12 goals and 14 assists for Atlanta’s league-best scoring attack.
Zlatan is also in the last three for Comeback Player of the Year along with Cuban midfielder Osvaldo Alonso of the Seattle Sounders and American forward Gyasi Zardes of the Columbus Crew.
MLS Coach of the Year candidates included Americans Bob Bradley, who guided LAFC to an expansion-team record 57 points and Peter Vermes, who oversaw Sporting Kansas City to the Western Conference title, and Argentina’s Gerardo Martino, who managed Atlanta United’s second-place run in the Eastern Conference.
Goalkeeper of the Year finalists were Swiss Stefan Frei of Seattle and American Luis Robles of New York Red Bulls and Zack Steffen of Columbus.
Defender of the Year finalists were Americans Aaron Long of the New York Red Bulls, Chad Marshall of the Seattle Sounders and Michael Parkhurst of Atlanta United.
© Agence France-Presse (additional edits from Chris Kelleher)